Real Food on a Real Budget

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I’ve heard lots of talk about eating right. And not just “right,” but eating well. Eating organic, locally-grown, raw foods that are nutritious! I’ve also heard lots of talk from friends that this “just isn’t doable” because “it’s too expensive.” I want to respond to this claim. My family has decided that our diet needs to be something we value. But on a single non-profit salary? Is eating well possible? It is. Here’s how we’re doing it.

Our Foodie Changes

Recently my husband and I have made big changes in the way we eat. Well, it’s been a long time coming. Little by little we’ve made changes. Over time we began eating more organic and more hearty meals, not skimpy on the veggies. This is impressive, considering the fact that we are both a bit picky.

Recently though our convictions were more than just that we need to eat organic foods. You see, we strive to be good stewards of our money, but the more we’ve read, the more we’ve realized we need to also be good stewards of our bodies. This means that what we put into our bodies matters. Like I said, we have made big changes to the way we eat, but we still have more changes to make. Here’s a glimpse into our diets.

From Scratch

Image taken from

We have started making more from scratch, when time allows. This includes bread (though we aren’t as good as we should be about this one), chicken broth, and yogurt, as well as other ingredients called for in recipes that I don’t want to buy (too processed), such as cream of chicken soup. My current to-make list: Cream cheese (should be easy since I have yogurt), cheese, butter, more types of bread.

All of these from scratch items actually save us money! It is much cheaper to buy a huge bag of organic wheat flour – or better yet, wheat berries to sprout our own grains – than it is to buy bread. And making chicken broth from a whole chicken actually allows me to use the bones as well as the meat. By creating my own yogurt, I save 50%. And making my own ingredients for recipes allows me to use items I have on hand, paying nothing out of pocket.

And though not really “from scratch,” I have also found grating our own cheese to be more cost-effective. Does it take time? Yes. But at least it takes better, and I don’t have wood pulp in my cheese.


Image from Royalty-Free on Flickr

We have also started buying more raw fruits and veggies. Organic and local when possible. I have been trying to find ways to get extra veggies and fruits into our meals. I take liberty with recipes and add veggies! We do have room for improvement in this area. Truth be told, I need to be better about getting up on Saturday mornings and going to our local farmer’s market.

Image take from Royalty-Free on Flickr

Also when I say “raw,” I don’t just mean fruits and veggies. We are also drinking raw milk. Some of you probably just had to slap your chest and gasp at that statement. But it’s true. We believe that raw milk is healthier for us. Sure there are claims that raw milk is not safe, but I don’t believe them. I actually believe that pasteurization and homogenization are harmful and that the small local farmer can be trusted for quality-control. After all, he has everything to lose if even one person gets sick. That said, I am not writing this post because I am trying to convert you to drinking raw milk. In this post, I am merely telling you about changes we’ve made to our diets. So for more on the safety of raw milk, I’ll just refer you to this article: Is raw milk safe?

As for adding raw milk to the budget, we did add $30 extra for milk each month. This is because now my husband started drinking milk too. Together, we go through two gallons a week. I, alone, was drinking a gallon of organic each week. (Two when I was pregnant. Ay!) This totals to about $20-25 per month. Once we add raw milk to our diet, my hubby joined in the milk bandwagon, which meant we now went through two gallons per week. (This seems extravagant, but since we believe raw milk is super nutritious, this seems like a good use of our money.) This now meant our milk bill would be… get ready… $64-72 per month! Ouch. Now you will understand when I say this: When we started drinking raw milk, we had to increase our grocery budget. We added $30 to the grocery budget. Notice that we did not completely add the difference of what we were spending on milk… which would have been $44+. We added 2/3 of that – just $30.

Less – Dare I say, NO – Processed Foods

This is our biggest change. Sure, forcing myself to pay $3 more per gallon for milk is big. And paying $1 more for organic produce is big too. But our biggest change is cutting out the processed foods. Like I said, there is room for improvement in each category. This category is no different. We do still eat some processed foods, but we have drastically cut back. Someday I hope we can be free of processed foods. It’s a goal.

When we first started making these changes, I cringed at the thought of what would happen to our grocery bill. Surely it would soar right? Funny thing. It didn’t. Sure we had already made changes for the raw milk (see above), but like I said, it wasn’t even enough to cover the cost of our additional raw milk expense. So in reality, I was spending less on non-milk items.

What I found is that even though getting a box of Cheerios is cheaper than buying a carton of eggs (think breakfast), which is a travesty by the way that processed foods cost less, we still ended up spending less. The fact that I am a big couponer had me getting items for $1, 50 cents, sometimes even free. And they weren’t always items that were terrible for me (or in my opinion… depends on who you ask). Sometimes, for example, I would get Cheerios for $1 per box, which means I couldn’t just buy one… I’d come home with six. So now you see what I mean – it adds up! Money-saving or not, it still adds up. Now when I go to the store, I stick with my list of basics. Sure there are less coupons for them, but I am not buying as much. I am making more from scratch! (See above)

Cutting Back on Sugar

Photo by Uwe Hermann (Flickr)

This is the kicker. I thought the no processed foods thing would be hard, but the sugar is the hard part. It’s like It is an addiction. Seriously.

It’s no secret that sugar is bad for you. There’s the whole weight issue. But what about ADHD? Diabetes? Cancer? Check out this quote, originally from  Gary Taubes of the New York Times. It refers to the relationship between disease and sugar.

“The connection between obesity, diabetes and cancer was first reported in 2004 in large population studies by researchers from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. It is not controversial.”

Yikes! So my family has been trying to cut back on sugar! And here’s something else interesting for you. My husband and I have both been noticeably tired – err, uh exhausted – on days when we overdo the sugar, but on weeks (a period of days) when we’ve almost successfully cut out sugar, we have no problem with exhaustion in the afternoons. We actually have energy! Hmm. And my husband actually gets anxious when he has too much sugar. This makes sense since anxiety and depression are related to sugar intake. (The counselor in me could go on quite the tangent about this last statement.)

So how does this aspect affect our budget? To be honest, this area doesn’t affect our budget all that much. This is more of discipline issue, a health-conscious decision. I simply choose more recipes without sugar in them and back less. The baking less is a little painful, but I am getting over it… I do have a baby to entertain now.

80/20 Rule

Now there is the whole 80/20 rule or 90/10 rule, which means if you eat well 80% of the time, the other 20% where you mess up is okay. I tend to agree. To be honest, I don’t even think we’ve made it to 80% yet, so don’t think we’ve fallen off our rockers… not yet anyway!

The Budget

So what’s our budget? I know you’re probably dying to know. Some of you may think it’s high. And some of you will go into shock. But either way, I don’t mind telling you. Remember that we are a two-person household. I am a nursing momma, meaning I eat way more! (Pregnancy had nothing on me compared to now.) And I’m at home, meaning I eat what’s here during the day, and I pack a lunch for my husband. That said, we spend $220/month $280/month* on groceries. And $64+ of this budgeted amount  goes to raw milk. So we basically spend $156 on raw foods each month. That’s really not a lot.  How do we do it? More to come!

*Technically we spend $220/month on food for groceries and $60 on toiletries and home products, but we recently went to the cash system and combined these two areas into one envelope – to make my life easier! So now we are at $280/month on “groceries.”

How does what you eat affect your budget?


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  1. Great post! We agree that eating more foods like fruits, vegetables and less processed foods are not only better for you, but help save you money–especially when buying in season. We’ve got a lot of budget friend ideas on our Fruits & Veggies–More Matters web site.

  2. I would LOVE to hear more about the details of your grocery bill. We are struggling to get ours down.

  3. I’d love to share this with my readers…thanks for your post!

  4. I think it is awesome that y’all only spend $280 a month. We are a family of three,and spend double that! We have pets though,and their food is pricey. I don’t by the cheap stuff,yet I do not buy the really expensive stuff either. I have been looking at all these sites of people getting their grocery budgets way down,and am inspired,but I must say I still do not get how everyone is spending so little. I am still going to try,and get ours down. Thank you SO much for your ideas and recipes!!

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